Ambassadors condemn China's treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang
More than 20 countries have written to top United Nations human rights officials condemning China's treatment of Uighur and other minorities in the western Xinjiang region, in a letter released on Wednesday.
UN ambassadors from 22 states – including Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany and Japan – co-signed the text sent to the Human Rights Council president, Coly Seck and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet.
China is reportedly holding one million people, mostly ethnic Uighurs, in internment camps in Xinjiang.
Rights groups and former inmates describe them as "concentration camps" where mainly Muslim Uighurs and other minorities are being forcefully assimilated into China's majority ethnic Han society.
China's Uighur heartland turns into security state
China says it faces a serious threat from Islamist extremists in its Xinjiang region. Beijing accuses separatists among the Muslim Uighur ethnic minority of stirring up tensions with the ethnic Han Chinese majority. By Nadine Berghausen
Economy or security? China routinely denies pursuing repressive policies in Xinjiang and points to the vast sums it spends on economic development in the resource-rich region. James Leibold, an expert on Chinese ethnic policy says the focus on security runs counter to Beijing's goal of using the OBOR initiative to boost Xinjiang's economy, because it would disrupt the flow of people and ideas
China's far western Xinjiang region ramps up security: three times a day, alarms ring out through the streets of China's ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar and shopkeepers rush out of their stores swinging government-issued wooden clubs. In mandatory anti-terror drills conducted under police supervision, they fight off imaginary knife-wielding assailants
One Belt, One Road Initiative: an ethnic Uighur man walks down the path leading to the tomb of Imam Asim in the Taklamakan Desert. A historic trading post, the city of Kashgar is central to China's "One Belt, One Road Initiative", which is President Xi Jinping's signature foreign and economic policy involving massive infrastructure spending linking China to Asia, the Middle East and beyond
China fears disruption of "One Belt, One Road" summit: a man herds sheep in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. China's worst fears are that a large-scale attack would blight this year's diplomatic set piece, an OBOR summit attended by world leaders planned for Beijing. Since ethnic riots in the regional capital Urumqi in 2009, Xinjiang has been plagued by bouts of deadly violence
Ethnic minority in China: a woman prays at a grave near the tomb of Imam Asim in the Taklamankan Desert. Uighurs are a Turkic-speaking distinct and mostly Sunni Muslim community and one of the 55 recognised ethnic minorities in China. Although Uighurs have traditionally practiced a moderate version of Islam, experts believe that some of them have been joining Islamic militias in the Middle East
Communist Party vows to continue war on terror: Chinese state media say the threat remains high, so the Communist Party has vowed to continue its "war on terror" against Islamist extremism. For example, Chinese authorities have passed measures banning many typically Muslim customs. The initiative makes it illegal to "reject or refuse" state propaganda, although it was not immediately clear how the authorities would enforce this regulation
CCTV cameras are being installed: many residents say the anti-terror drills are just part of an oppressive security operation that has been ramped up in Kashgar and other cities in Xinjiang's Uighur heartland in recent months. For many Uighurs it is not about security, but mass surveillance. "We have no privacy. They want to see what you're up to," says a shop owner in Kashgar
Ban on many typically Muslim customs: the most visible change is likely to come from the ban on "abnormal growing of beards," and the restriction on wearing veils. Specifically, workers in public spaces, including stations and airports, will be required to "dissuade" people with veils on their faces from entering and report them to the police
Security personnel keep watch: authorities offer rewards for those who report "youth with long beards or other popular religious customs that have been radicalised", as part of a wider incentive system that rewards actionable intelligence on imminent attacks. Human rights activists have been critical of the tactics used by the government in combatting the alleged extremists, accusing it of human rights abuses
The letter expresses concern "about credible reports of arbitrary detention... as well as widespread surveillance and restrictions, particularly targeting Uighurs and other minorites in Xinjiang."
It calls on China to stop arbitrary detention and allow "freedom of movement of Uighurs and other Muslim and minority communities in Xinjiang."
The authors, who include ambassadors from across the EU as well as Switzerland, requested that the letter become an official document of the Human Rights Council, which ends its 41st session in Geneva on Friday.
Diplomats rarely send open letters to the 47-member council to criticise a country's record, but the move may have been the only available option to spotlight Xinjiang, with China likely having enough support to vote down a formal resolution.
Chinese officials describe the camps as voluntary "vocational education centres" where Turkic-speaking Uighurs receive job training.
Beijing has said the centres are necessary to steer people away from religious extremism, terrorism and separatism. (AFP)